Empire in Asia

A New Global History


Book Cover

Book Title

Decolonization: The Administration and Future of the Colonies, 1919-1960. USA: Doubleday, 1971


von Albertini, Rudolf (Trans. by Francisca Garvie)


Albertini's work does not aim to present the general history of decolonization nor to describe internal development of a large number of colonial territories in the last decades before their independence. Rather, the focus of the topics is regarding Europe's attitude towards the future of its colonies, especially when and how Europe came to accept decolonization. In addition, Albertini explains the concepts and doctrines on which the administration of the colonies and the end of the process of decolonization were based.

In focusing largely on the motivations of European empire and their eventual understanding of what came to be known as decolonization, the discussion ranged from the American Revolution and the French Revolution as well as the First World War. These events in itself changed the perception of Europe towards colonization, as well as laying out the groundwork for the changing circumstances on the ground, particularly the First World War in this respect.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The First World War provided a natural starting-point for a discussion of the age of decolonization since it had intensified the fervor of anti-colonialism to a considerable extent. The events of American Revolution and the French Revolution also strongly influenced the British and French imperial outlook respectively in the nineteenth century.

Albertini covers the First World War extensively since it had seen the undermining of the 'unity' of the "white man's world"; regarded as a fratricidal war in which each side used official and unofficial propaganda to weaken the power of the enemy by accusing him of criminal behavior in his colonies. The League of Nations mandate was also arguably made annexations possible and legal. Most importantly, this marked the internationalization of the colonial issue. In this way, Albertini covers events wherein attitude of Europe toward the governing of their colonies were undergoing a large current of change.

In addition, the period of WWI was explored for the change in the idea of hegemony of Europeans in Asia. With the rise of Japan, Europe's scientific and technological achievements was seen to be facing a problem; these achievements are perceived to be uprooted from their native soil and taken over by other races and used against itself. The economic issue also remains central to decolonization since the new elite had scarcely any part in the modern, expanding colonial and technical bureaucracy. The economic development of their country by foreign enterprises, as well as their dependence on the world market and the fact that the manipulations had been taken out of their ands - seemed to them "alienation" and capitalist exploitation, which could only be opposed by national emancipation and social revolution.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The writer puts forth strong arguments for the nature of decolonization. For France, her very own Revolution manufactured a contemporary and uniquely French idea of decolonization: that decolonization should lead not to dissociation and independence but to integration into the mother country by extended civil rights and parliamentary representation.

International events like WWI, WWII and the consequences of each war are argued to be the main causes for the constant change in the attitudes of both the colonizers and the colonized in their relationship within their local domains. Great Britain had suffered its most spectacular defeat with the fall of Singapore, the mighty naval base which had become the symbol of Britain's economic interest, military presence and will to dominate in Asia - a milestone in the process of decolonization.

Albertini argues that Europe did not decolonize on its own accord; rather it was challenged to do so by the colonial peoples. Europe herself had been exhausted in two great wars, bringing to life counter-movements in the colonized territories, and reflected that she was no longer willing to maintain her domination at the expense of her own economic and political strength.

Finally, the economic situation in the colonies was perceived as exploitation by foreign powers, making the young, nationalist elite who were schooled in the West susceptible to Marxist promises, thus giving their nationalism a revolutionary accent.

Annotated by Michelle Djong